What Do You Get When You Put Together Three Square Geeks?

We three Geeks, with the help of Librarian Extraordinaire Jan Rivers, conducted a brain analysis on ourselves.
How, you may wonder, do three seemingly normal, non-medically trained legalists do self-brain analysis?
With a little help from technology, of course!
Jan pointed us to a little online test at the Art Institute of Vancouver that runs a Right Brain versus Left Brain Creativity Test.
You would think that we three Geeks would be logical, linear and, well, geeky? Ah, contraire, my dear readers!
And the results are:
@gnawledge: 45% Left-Brained and 55% Right-Brained
@glambert: 41% Left-Brained and 59% Right-Brained
@lihsa: 46% Left-Brained and 54% Right-Brained
Perhaps that explains Toby's stellar stage presence, Greg's rocker ambitions and my penchant for poetry? Perhaps the better name for us would be the 3 Gleeks?
Or to put it another way, what do you get when you hook up three square geeks?
Why Geeks Cubed, of course--Geeks to the Third Power rule this house!

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Takeaways from the ILTA Annual Conference

I've commented before that part of what makes each ILTA Annual Conference so valuable is the event's emphasis on providing actionable takeaways - lessons that can make a real difference in how you and your organization operate. So after returning from the conference last year, I put together a list of my own personal takeaways. I then copied the items into an Outlook appointment that repeats quarterly. My six-month 'appointment' just popped up, and I thought I'd share my takeaways here. It's not only useful to remind myself of these lessons, but it's also interesting to evaluate which I've implemented (and which proved more challenging). If you have a list of your own takeaways from #ilta10, please share them in the comments.
User Feedback
1. Jo Haraf – Use post-its labelled with ‘love it’ / ‘hate it’ / ‘fix it’ to get feedback from users.
2. Jo Haraf – Book recommendation, “Innovation Games” by Luke Hohmann, for understanding your customers’ needs.
Change Leadership by JAG
3. Ask, “what impact is this action going to have on the people around me?”
4. When implementing change, communicate early and often the HOW and the WHY.
5. Vest personnel in change: transparency, communication, candor.
6. “The role of leadership is to turn challenges into opportunities.” General Dennis Reimer
7. Keep people informed as you’re about to change their lives.
Client Satisfaction
8. Are you measuring your clients’ satisfaction with your extranets? Only 5% of respondents to ILTA survey said ‘yes.’
9. Plan to fail: mitigate the consequences; learn; use the failure as a guidepost.
After Action Reviews
10. Be open & honest; review the system not the person.
11. Conduct either by timeline or by theme/topic.
12. Document everything you did right! Not just the areas for improvement.
Friendly Project Management Tools
13. Basecamp = Simple, very usable tool for helping to manage projects, plus integrates with email.
14. LiquidPlanner = Very useful gantt tool; the only software that allows you to input duration ranges (e.g. 2-3 days, 1-2 weeks).
Working with Vendors
15. Make sure you understand how the vendor will meet your success criteria.
16. Working with vendor – Don’t just reward for success, but also penalize for not meeting criteria.

That's my list - please share yours in the comments. And remember, registration for #ILTA11 opens on March 1.

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Pressure at the Top – An Emerging Trend in Legal Fees?

Since Ayelette called me out on delivering depressing news earlier in the week, I thought I would end the week on a consistent, low-note by highlighting a emerging trend in downward pressure on legal fees.
The existence of fee/pricing pressure in the legal market is common knowledge. However, based on my experience I see some trends appearing in different layers of the market. My basic thesis is that the higher up in the market you go (by size of company), the more pressure you will have on fees and rates. On the surface, this thesis may seem a bit mundane since conventional wisdom holds that the clients with larger budgets have gotten more sophisticated and are leveraging that to lower their legal fees.
However, I suggest this sophistication is more about willingness and ability.
And by “willingness” I mean the CEO told the GC to cut outside legal fees – no excuses. By “ability,” I mean the CEO said to the GC, “Purchasing will help you do this.” Too often I have heard in-house counsel apologize for their cost cutting behaviors. This suggests their willingness is mandated. In-house lawyers also appear to struggle with Purchasing’s involvement in how law firms are hired. So this ability is external to the legal department as well.
Why is this happening? As previously noted on 3 Geeks, the legal department is no longer exempt from cost-cutting. Having been exempt for so long, legal is now a prime target. As one GC put it, “Legal is the last bastion of untapped cost savings for the CEO.” Evidence of this trend is the evolving role of Purchasing. Originally very general RFPs for legal work were going out from Purchasing. These initial efforts may have resulted in fewer firms being on a client’s list. But now things have evolved to the point that clients are releasing RFPs on specific work. With a definable scope in place, price competition is becoming commonplace. The result for law firms is a more consistent, higher level of fee pressure with this class of client.
Moving down market to mid-tier companies, there seems to be less willingness and ability to push down on fees and rates. I believe these clients are just as “sophisticated” as the Fortune 500 types. However, they are not yet feeling the same pressures from leadership on cutting fees and their Purchasing departments are not as large, powerful and involved.
That being said, the same behavior will find its way down-market over time. The Perfect Economic Storm I have previously mentioned, will eventually find its way to all corners of the market.
As this evolution continues, I predict getting work from large companies will present a real challenge for law firms. Their old-school instincts will tell them that staying with this type of client is good, given the size of their legal spend and for being marquee clients. But the ability to sustain reasonable margins on this work will continue to erode.
Here comes my depressing comment: How long will it take firms to understand this trend and adjust to it? My answer: Too long.

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Elephant Post: What Legal News Resources do you read to keep up with industry news that affects your profession?

I have the wonderful job of researching dozens (maybe hundreds?) of different legal rags everyday. There are definitely some good legal news resources out there, and we thought we'd let you share a few of your favorites with us. For example, I enjoy the Osmosys Legal Industry Monitor for generic legal news (plus it is FREE!!)

We have a number of contributions this week. If you didn't contribute, but don't see your favorite resource, go ahead and add it to the comments.

Since I'm having to post this from a conference, next week's Elephant Post asks about "non-traditional" conference that you like. So, after you've bookmarked all these resources, go ahead and scroll to the bottom and contribute to the next post!

WSJ Professional alerts
Marilyn Bromley
Law librarian

I use it for CI by tracking our competitors, industries, markets and trends. The search interface is very unsophisticated, so I have to deal with lots of false hits, but when it finds something useful, in real-time, it makes me look good with my stakeholders!

Harold Goldner

Roadsync is one of only two Android applications that will enable users to sync Outlook tasks with their handsets.  Since we are a TimeMatters shop, and my to-do list is integrated into contacts, cases, and other case-specific records, I sync from TM to Outlook twice daily (beginning and end of day).  Roadsync enables me to keep most of that information with me on my Android phone.

Karen Sawatzky
Law librarian

It's organized, authoritative, well-written, and even includes a search box! What more do you need in a legal resource?! I've filtered it so I only receive info on areas of law my firm practises.

Google Reader
Catherine Deane
Law Librarian

With Google Reader, I can create RSS feeds of multiple news sources, and easily use either the Google Reader interface, or Google Reader Play to scan the headlines and abstracts for news articles from blogs, and other news sources. Then I can read in detail, or email to others relevant legal news.
My reader feed currently contains over 30 different sources that cover the topics of: Academic librarianship, law librarianship, law and the legal profession, legal news, news for law professors, news for law students, and general current awareness.
Some of the most useful sources are: Law Librarian Blog; beSpacific and Legal Theory Blog
But my new favourite is Library Stuff

Google Reader / Google Alerts
John Hafen

I subscribe to updates posted on numerous online news sources and blogs (including this one) through Google Reader.  I also follow online news related to specific keywords through Google Reader via Google Alert feeds. 
Contrary to popular belief, RSS is not dead!

Megan Wiseman
Law Librarian

Twitter gets a bad rap some days.  At the risk of beating a dead horse, however, I'd like to defend Twitter's immense usefulness:  Glancing up and down my Twitter feed is the first thing I do once I turn on my computer for the day; it's the last thing I do before hitting the kill switch at night.  ...and no, I do not use it to advertise what I ate for lunch, or how crowded the bus was that morning. 
It's my up-to-the-minute news feed for out-of-the-way tidbits of information.  I've not gotten into ""trending"" very much, but understand its usefulness ... quite often, I don't have anything particular I'm looking to know, I just want to know it all!! And Twitter does that for me.  I recommend following these folks if you want to get a good river of information in the legal and library sectors flowing past your eyes: AmLawDaily, lawyerist, HotLawTopics, LexisNexis, lawdotcom, bobambrogi, ALA_TechSource, govloop, ALALibrary, aallnet, natlawreview.  (At the time of this posting, all the listed sources had posted sometime in the past half hour.)  I use it to spark conversation, get ideas, find resources, and general news.  So lets all Tweet like the birdies Tweet!

Law 360
Nicole Snyder
Law Librarian

I use Law 360 because it allows me to quickly focus in on my firm, other firms and companies that are of interest to me.

Next Week's Elephant Post:
What "Non-Traditional" Conference Do You Go To (Or Would Love To Go To) And Why?
I'm sitting here at the Ark Group Conference in New York (#ARKLIB) - because apparently, I'm the only Geek that knows how to compile all the Elephant Post contributions - and got to thinking about how much I enjoyed the high-level discussion we were having. So, I thought I'd make it into the next Elephant Post and see what other conferences are out there that may sit outside the mainstream.

Go ahead and fill out the form below, or email me, or DM me on Twitter if you have something you'd like to share with the rest of us.
See you back here next week!!

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Law Firm Profits and Social Security: The Same Model?

In one of those about-to-fall-asleep, mind-is-wandering moments, it occurred to me that law firms are financially structured a lot like the US Social Security system. I wish I could give the genesis for this thought, but I was lucky to retain the overall analogy. However, it may have come from Ayelette’s post about my recent dark and forbidding predictions.
Social Security (SS) is structured such that workers (a.k.a. contributors) pay into a system that passes this money along to retired folk (a.k.a recipients). When you pay in to SS, you get the impression you are building an account that will pay you back, but the reality is you are merely building eligibility to receive benefits from future generations of contributors.
In law firms associates and other non-partners are the contributors who generate profits that are then passed on to the partner/recipients. Becoming a partner puts you in-line to reap the benefits from future associate/contributors. The differences between the systems are two-fold. First – unlike most retirees, partners are still contributing to the system via their own billable hours. Second – whereas workers contribute for decades into SS, associates only contribute for 7 to 10 years in to the profit pool before they become recipients.
The two systems share one weakness: The pool of contributors must be of sufficient size in order to maintain the payments to the recipients. Currently both systems appear to be facing a “contributor deficiency” situation.
I’m not sure which one will be the hardest to fix.

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"Your Budget Was Cut Again? But, Didn't Your Firm Post Record Profits?"

I'm going to play "Devil's Advocate" for a few minutes, so bear with me. I hear a lot of talk about how law firm administration has to:
  • "do more with less" 
  • "everyone has to wear multiple hats" 
  • "times are tough" 
  • "budgets have to be cut in hard times" 
  • "clients just aren't paying for that any longer" 
I'm sure that I'm not the only one that's hearing this lately. In return, it gives me some good ammunition to take to my vendors and say:
  • we can't afford to continue 10% or greater increases in subscriptions any more
  • we just don't recover as much as we used to from clients
  • my budget is slashed because of the bad economy
Now, I know that the vendors would never come out and say this to our faces, but if anyone is following the numbers coming out of the Am Law 100 firms so far this year, vendors could counter with something like "Your budget was cut again this year? But, didn't your firm just report that it had its best year ever? Sounds like your firm is doing just fine to me. That'll be an extra 10% increase in your subscription, thank  you very much."

Here are a few of the headlines that the Am Law 100 press releases have been bragging about lately:
  • Profits and Revenues Hit Record Highs
  • Very Big Year
  • Bump Up in Profits
  • It's Back to 2008
  • Profits Surge
  • Rise in Revenue, Profits
  • Profits, Revenue Rises

We all know that administrative cuts were deep over the past two to three years. Quite frankly, it'll be a long time before we ever see 2008 type budgets or staffing again. In fact, many of us believe that the downturn in the economy helped weed out some serious inefficiencies and helped us streamline the overall administrative side of the house. That being said, many of us also believe that we cannot continue to cut services without it eventually catching up with us, and potentially biting us in the butt. It is also pretty obvious that the excuses we've been using for the past two years are hard for others to accept when we're also slapping ourselves on the back for record profits.

We're at a cross-roads right now on developing ways to improve services provided by the administrative side of a law firm, without slipping back into the pre-2008 sloppiness that caused so many cuts in services and staffing. Vendors will probably think that it is "business as usual" in the legal industry; Partners will think that "we still need to run a lean operation"; however, it is those of us in the "non-lawyer" side of things that have to start developing ways to keep costs down while at the same time bringing services back up to an acceptable level that provides the firm with the resources it needs.

Time to put away the excuses of "we don't have the money" and time to start developing the new business model of "we can't afford to waste our time, effort and money on _____, any longer."

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LexisNexis Fails Law Librarianship Graduate Programs

[Note: Please Welcome Guest Blogger Rich Evans]

After graduating law school back in 2007 and practicing in a small firm, local government and solo settings, I decided to become a law librarian. So far, it has been a great fit in my life, much in part to the law librarianship program at Catholic University, which I absolutely love. I honestly have no complaints except for one, the involvement of vendors, specifically LexisNexis.

In contrast, in law school there was never a day when either LexisNexis or Westlaw was not in my life. The relationship was great. I enjoyed full access to both vendors – more than I ever needed. They would even pay me reward points for daily visits to the LexisNexis website or attending one of their “advanced” search classes. I could then exchange the points for goods that seemed a little too extravagant, even a chance to win a car, but I am not one to pass up free lavish stuff.  All of this I thought was just a way to encourage law students to use their services in the future. Although this worked out great for me, I honestly have no idea why they did this.

I seriously doubt as an attorney that I would ever have been in the position to influence a decision between Westlaw and LexisNexis. In addition, given the attrition rate in the legal field, this conclusion seems to apply to most of my classmates. Even if I were in the position to make such a decision, I doubt the gift cards that I won while in law school would affect my decision… unless they gave me a car, which then would make me a lifetime customer.

In my case, until I started the law librarianship program, I have used neither LexisNexis nor Westlaw electronic services since I graduated law school. My first two jobs did not require it and I could not afford it as a solo. The times that I did need to research anything outside a state statute, I was told “we keep it old school” by my managing attorney, which meant I had to walk to the public law library and crack open a book.

So now, I am sitting in an Advance Legal Research class preparing to learn my future craft, which includes an expert proficiency of both Westlaw and LexisNexis. On our first research assignment I logged into LexisNexis to look up my first case, but instead all I got was a screen that stated that the “document was not available” because it was not “within the subscription agreement.” I then tried another citation, which produced the same result. Eventually I just gave up and just used the tried and true old-school method.

Two weeks later, we had a LexisNexis representative visit our class to give us a basic functionality presentation. However, as she was giving us the presentation, all we could do was watch, because a lot of what she was demonstrating we did not have access to. Eventually one of my classmates figured out the problem, the search did not allow us to enter cases by code, only by name. I know how absurd that sounds, but it is true.

Now I completely understand that these services cost a lot of money even for law schools, and it is LexisNexis right to limit access due to cost – which I guess is a large part of the problem. However, I think that LexisNexis needs to take into careful consideration of our demographic when they determine licensing agreements.

I, as most of my classmates, will have a greater chance to influence vendor decisions than most law students will. Further, over the course of our careers, we are more likely to be the heaviest users of electronic legal databases. Most of all, given the size of the enrollment of all the Law Librarianship programs put together, it just seems that LexisNexis and Westlaw could make concessions without breaking the bank. I would bet that the maybe hundreds of library students in law programs across the country will have more influence over their profits than the ten of thousands of law students that they cater to every day.

In order to be a good law librarian, I realize that I will need to have expert knowledge in both LexisNexis and Westlaw’s products and services. However, at this time my class performance trumps my willingness to find workarounds to LexisNexis’ shortcomings. If Google Scholar, Westlaw or the old-school method produces a better work product, then that is what I am most likely to use. When I graduate and move on, the database that I will advocate for is the one I am most comfortable using, and frankly, LexisNexis does not seem to want to be in that race.

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Mortality. And the Power to Change.

I've been reading Toby's last two posts about the questionable financial state of law firms (The Fall of the Legal Cartels? and Warren Buffett Puts Another Nail in the Law Firm Coffin) and wondering to myself "Come on Law Firm Management, do you really not see your future? Do you really not get how current cost and compensation models are one-way tickets in the wrong direction? I know lawyers are slow to change, but we've been living in a new economic world for quite some time now, and we're still billing by the hour on most matters? Still giving bonuses based on hours worked? Really?"
So why exactly is it that law firm partners and management haven't been persuaded to change their models? I've been reading the same articles and statistics that you have that explain that clients aren't pushing hard enough, and that partners are afraid of losing their current levels of profit. I get that. But isn't making sure your business doesn't go out of business next year right up there in priority with making sure your income this year remains high? And yet partners and management on the whole are not acting in ways consistent with a recognition that models need to change for business to survive. There are little inroads here and there, but those are still considered the exceptions to the rule, not a new and revised rule.
What is the sticking point? I believe it is not just a desire for profit, but a desire for profit combined with an inability to face our own mortality. Individuals never quite believe that they will be harmed by their own bad behavior, even if research and social wisdom tell them otherwise; so they behave in a slew of self-destructive ways because of the "It will never happen to me" syndrome. Similarly, law firm partners who are enjoying past profits never really believe that the vice of hourly billing and compensating is going to threaten their existence. Even in the face of others' deaths, human beings still assume that they are somehow special or better or different and are immune to whatever befell the others. So too no law firm, deep in its heart, believes it is going to dissolve and therefore the incentive to take a risk and threaten a significant-profit model just doesn't exist.
I suspect that nothing short of the likes of a BodyWorlds exhibit -- putting the inner workings of a dissolved law firm on display next to that of a successful one, like the smoker's lung next to the non-smoker's -- will shake the way law firm owners and managers think. But when those owners and managers do realize the very real possibilities of losing clients, losing business, and losing existence, they will also appreciate that they have the power to change their future.

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Warren Buffett Puts Another Nail in the Law Firm Coffin

Warren Buffett, the quintessential capitalist, was recently quoted:
“[t]he single most important decision in evaluating a business is pricing power. If you’ve got the power to raise prices without losing business to a competitor, you’ve got a very good business. And if you have to have a prayer session before raising the price by 10 percent, then you’ve got a terrible business.”
These statements exposes Buffett’s core strategy in picking winning companies. His point is that most any other deficiency in a business can be overcome by the simple ability to raise prices without losing business. Law firms, to their great misfortune, currently lack the ability to raise prices and in many circumstances the market is actually lowering them.
I’ve previously contemplated the Perfect Economic Storm law firms are in, citing 1) the transition to a competitive market, 2) the Great Recession, and 3) the accelerating impact of technology. I think Mr. Buffett is spot-on with his statement and as such will now add this fourth factor to the Perfect Storm. Given Mr. Buffett’s deep understanding of markets, the pricing factor may well be the most influential.
Not wanting to leave our readers on a completely negative note, Mr. Buffett did add the following statement to his assessment, which may give law firms some level of optimism:
"The extraordinary business does not require good management.”

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The Fall of the Legal Cartels?

In chatting with my boss / colleague / mentor about the economic state of the legal industry, we stumbled on an interesting analogy. We were discussing the recent CT TyMetrix Real Rate report and the fact that the number one driver of differences in billing rates is a lawyer’s location. We concluded that law firms still live like its 2005 and base their billing rates on a lawyer's comp instead of their value. So lawyers in NY and LA will have higher rates than those in Denver or Dallas. And this all hinges on the very standard market level of pay for new associates in each jurisdiction.
This lead us to the thought that law firms have been acting in an informal cartel. Previously I have written about the “Monopoly” of the legal profession, but in many respects “Cartel” is a better moniker.
The purpose of a cartel is controlling pricing such that commoditized products and services can be priced at non-commodity levels, enabling the realization of higher levels of profit. You see this behavior on the in-bound side of firms in how associates salaries have been set in the market. And you see it on the out-bound side in how billing rates were increased in a similar lock-step fashion over the past 20 years.
The legal industry has been able to support this informal cartel subject to demand increasing at a faster rate than supply. About 5 years ago this balance began to shift. The shift is a result of a greater supply of lawyers entering the market and the impact of new technologies. The Great Recession accelerated these forces, putting us in our current situation.
The crazy thing is that so many firms continue to treat the market as if the cartel is still in place. Once the economy started to turn-around, firms went right back to their former associate hiring and pay model. And they continue with their old-school compensation models. They only thing that hasn’t gone back to “normal” is the way they raise billing rates and bill hours in a relatively unchecked fashion.
Bottom-line this means firms are using the cartel model in how they managed the price of inputs, but they no longer control the price of the outputs. The results of this type of behavior are obvious yet remain elusive to many law firm leaders.
Ultimately all cartels breakdown under the strain of market pressures. Only under normal circumstances, the market players are aware when this has happened.

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NARA to Abolish the National Archives Library – What Happens to the Collection?

[Note: There has been an update on the status of the Archives Library that says that they will not be abolishing it. Please see the ALA Update.]

The Archivist of the United States (AOTUS), David Ferriero, wrote that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is facing a funding situation where they are "Doing More With Less." An 8.2% decrease in funding for FY2012 means some hard decisions have to be made, one of which is the abolishment of the National Archives Library.

Bernadine Abbot Hoduski, well-respected Government Documents Librarian, and founder of the Government Documents Roundtable (GODORT) in 1972, send out this email to the GOVDOC-L listserv, and I asked her if I could reprint it here to help get her message out about what happens to the actual material held in the National Archives Library. Bernadine points out something that we all know happens during economic downturns that cause governments to begin cutting services:
As we all know as librarians, libraries are often the first to be cut in an economic crisis. We also know that once the resources in these libraries are lost they are almost impossible to replace.
I've taken the liberty of including some links when possible, and placing some of her key questions in bold-face type, and hope that AOTUS would address these issues as soon as possible.

[Note: There is an update from ALA that seems to contradict the initial NARA memo. I've placed it at the end of this post. I'll keep you updated if any new information comes out of NARA clarifying the closure and layoffs that were initially announce.]

Hello All,

The Archivist of the United States has issued Memo 2011-113, which announces the abolishment of the National Archives Library by the end of this fiscal year.
I went to the NARA site and found the Archives Library Information Center (ALIC) to find the number and jobs of the staff and the services provided. This center is heavily used by historians, genealogists and others. Check it out yourself.
The library is part of the by-law program run by GPO and is entitled to all the government publications issued through the GPO. The library collects publications such as phone directories and other publications that concern personnel. These types of publications usually do not go to depository libraries or if they are, they are discarded when the new edition is issued. NARA keeps those older editions and these are invaluable to researchers and genealogists as well as agency historians. Since some of the planning for the future of the depository library program has depended upon back up collections at NARA and LC and the national
libraries, it is important to know what will happen to the collections held by ALIC. 
  • Will [the collections held by ALIC] be kept by NARA and sent to other units or will they be discarded? 
  • Will librarians throughout the world be able to borrow those publications and will they be able to send researchers to NARA in DC to do research? 
The staff at ALIC have provided excellent service and have created on line tools to help researchers more easily find both government documents and other resources.
  • Who will provide this service once these librarians are gone?
It is important to know what will happen to RG 287 (This is the collection of several million government documents collected and cataloged by GPO. The collection was transferred from the Department of Interior in 1895 to GPO and was organized by Adelaide Hasse. It was transferred to NARA by GPO in 1972 so it would be permanently protected as government records). RG287 is under the control of NARA Legislative Archives. It is not clear where RG287 is housed and whether it is kept as one unit or scattered among various units of NARA. It is not clear as to who is providing service to this collection. It would make sense to transfer library staff most familiar with government documents to legislative archives so that the nation can continue to benefit from the expertise and knowledge of librarians at NARA. As we all know as librarians, libraries are often the first to be cut in an economic crisis. We also know that once the resources in these libraries are lost they are almost impossible to replace.
I have listed the names and positions of the library staff below along with the memo from the Archivist. Please send this message on to your state association listservs and other organizations.

Bernadine Abbott Hoduski

National Archives Library (ALIC) abolished - Archivist Memo 2011-113
7 positions to be eliminated:
Current Library employees:
  1. Jeff Hartley [Chief Librarian]
  2. Carolyn Gilliam [Reference]
  3. Randall Fortson [Reference A2]
  4.  Torin Pollock [Technician]
  5. Melissa Copp [Cataloger]
  6. Nancy Wing [Reference head A1] (Military)
  7. Tim Syzek [Reference (Military)]
  8. Marquetta Troy [Technician]
  9. Maryellen Trautman [Documents Cataloger-By Law] 
Bernadine Abbott Hoduski

AOTUS listed these links for more information on the budget for NARA and the plans that are in place right now:

[Update: From ALA Governmental Information Subcommittee]

New Post: "Update on the National Archives Library Information Center"
By Jessica McGilvray
------ Update on the National Archives Library Information Center
In the last couple of days there has been much concern about the status of the National Archives Library Information Center (ALIC).  The National Archives will be putting out an official statement on the issue, but in the meantime I was able to speak with David McMillen the External Affairs Liaison at the National Archives.  He assured me that the library is not closing and the collection would remain accessible by the public.  There are going to be changes to the library.  Due to budget constraints the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) will be merging library services with other services.  This means that:
  • The library will remain open and staffed and public access will remain
  • The library collection will remain intact (with the exception of the bound serial set being moved because the library has purchased an online version).
  • Like most libraries facing budget cuts, acquisitions will be substantially reduced.
  • Seven positions will be reassigned, not laid off.  Some of those people may be providing library reference within a different unit, but it is too soon to say where people will be assigned.
  • The records management process with the Government Printing Office will not be affected by this merge.
Jessica McGilvray
To view this Post in Connect, go to http://connect.ala.org/node/131094.

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Would You like Fries with Your Merger Agreement?

It seems reality continues to encroach on the practice of law. Announced this week in the UK is “a bid to create the first solicitors franchise.” The idea is to create a standard platform of back-office systems and services and then franchise that out as a law firm platform to different locations and markets. The initial focus will be on “small private client law firms” which I read as more of a retail-law play.
IT people take note, “that key to the project’s success will be a software package ….” This suggests that technology has to be a key driver of efficient, standardized (read quality) legal services.
I am guessing the Legal Services Act is a driver or enabler of some sort for this idea, as it involves fee sharing on some level.
Good idea? Absolutely. This will drive competitively priced legal services in the market.
Will it fly in the US? Not yet, due to the fee sharing angle. But in my humble opinion, the US should be figuring the whole Legal Services Act idea out and replicating here. It’s either that or let the some other type of provider take over in the market.
I’m just sayin …

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Dewey B Strategic Blog Comes Out Swinging on “Vendor Sourcing”

Big firm Library Director, Jean O'Grady, launched her new blog "Dewey B Strategic" yesterday, and immediately went after the inefficient processes of legal publishing vendors and says that it is time to shift those costs back to the publishers. Anyone that has ever talked with O'Grady knows that she's not afraid to step up and point out when something doesn't smell right. This time around she's set her sights on some of the basic problems that law firm librarians have dealt with for years, and says that it is time to start billing these time and money wasting processes back to those vendors.

Here's a list of a few items that O'Grady thinks need to be cleaned-up, modernized, or eliminated:
  • Loose-leaf filing
  • Billing and shipping errors
  • Bill process and coding
  • Forced bundling of print and digital content
According to O'Grady:
Publishers verbally profess their support for the value of law librarians while simultaneously enmeshing our organizations in a host of unsustainable business methods. I find special irony in noting that one major publisher has acquired an LPO business and is selling process improvement to lawyers while its print publishing operation is guilty generating some of the back office inefficiencies afflicting law firm libraries.
I think I heard a chorus of "Amens" from the law librarian pews.

I look forward to seeing more good stuff from Jean and the Dewey B Strategic blog.

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PSLs in the US – A Way Forward

[Note: This is part three of a three-part guest-series on Practice Support Lawyers (PSL) and the emergence of PSLs in the United States from our guest-blogger, Ian Nelson.]

PSLs in the US – A Way Forward
So how should US firms adapt and refine the PSL model?  The UK experience has shown that large numbers of PSLs are not the answer.  A team that is too small but expected to create everything inhouse does not have the bandwidth to make a meaningful impact.

The PSL role should be less about creating standard, or generic, resources, and more about focusing on firm-specific materials and expertise.  The ideal situation is for firms to outsource the standard materials, for PSLs to focus on firm-specific materials and expertise and for technology to provide the most efficient way to search for and categorize the content.

Of course, many firms have stories of trying to create standard resources.  However, most partner feedback I’ve heard is that these projects fall apart when deals heat up and it is difficult to get senior lawyers to dedicate the necessary time.  Without a sufficient number of professionals dedicated to this on a daily basis, the reality is that it won’t get done.

The ideal PSLs are senior attorneys who are known and respected by their practice group that act as knowledge brokers and thought leaders.  The attorneys have someone to whom they can download their deal knowledge and the PSLs are able to recognize what’s worth recycling back around to the group. The PSLs can also identify the best memos their group is preparing and turn these into enduring products for the group.  Ultimately, the PSLs sit at the heart of the group they support.

The PSL role is growing in importance in the US as the old way of doing things is gone forever.  To maximize the success and efficiency of the PSL, US firms should take a close look at the UK model and how it developed to apply those lessons from the word go.

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Elephant Post: What Mobile App Do You Use For Work?

We've all probably sat through those “60 Apps in 60 Minutes” programs at a conference and watched as a bevy of applications flew past us on the screen. Those are cool, but what how many of those do we actually use when we get back to our office? So, we've asked you to share with us any apps you use for work and why it helps you do your job, and you didn't disappoint!

We have suggestions for Blackberry (which is probably still the “standard” mobile tech for lawyers these days, iPhone, iPad, and Androids. So, get your mobile devices ready for some new apps to try out and let us know if we missed a good one or two.

Next week's Elephant Post question is at the bottom of this post, so make sure you take a look and share your perspective with us.

Lawyer Perspective
Dropbox for Blackberry plus Docs to Go

I use this so that I can sync documents that I may need to look at on the road.  Documents to go gives a more readable format to many of these documents.  While the BB screen is still small, as a solo, I can't be totally out of touch when out of the office so the combination of Dropbox and Documents to Go is great.

Lawyer Perspective
Twitter's App

Twitter lets me keep up with science websites.  Since I can no longer devote the time scouring journals, this is a great way to stay somewhat informed and access the articles I am specifically interested.

CCO Perspective

Scoop of chocolate, Scoop of vanilla. Email is still the most important mobile app.
The bulk of business communication runs through email. If you can't get email on your mobile device, you're not leaving the office. It's why blackberries are still so prevalent. They have a great email app.

Online Marketing Perspective
AT&T Code Scanner

Well, I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't use all the usual suspects but I thought I would mention my latest favoritest: AT&T Code Scanner.
Used to read QR and datamatrix codes and 1D bar codes found in print publications, it links me straight to the related web site.
Totally cool, I have to credit Mr. Robert Downey, Jr. and Esquire magazine for turning me on to this coolest of the cool features. See my post “Are You Ready to Augment Your Reality?

Doctoral Candidate in Legal Informatics Perspective

The Omnifocus app allows me to keep track of my tasks and sort them according to teaching, researching, writing reports, supervising thesis, blogging, etc. By using different views or perspectives, I can present the task according to my whereabouts and deadlines, so I am not constantly overwhelmed by the amount of to-do's.
In addition, I can sync all tasks between my iPhone, iPad, iMac and MacBook which allows me to access them anytime and anywhere.

KM Attorney Perspective

Mindo is an iPad version of common mind-mapping tools.  A consultant on one of my projects started mind-mapping a conversation we were having one day and I was shocked at how useful it was to see our thoughts being displayed as inter-connected nodes on a screen and moreso how often I refered back to the map in the coming days. Since then we have instituted mind-mapping as part of standard project planning process.
Mindo is great because it mimics most of what the desktop applications do, but of course, is mobile. Ideas and concepts can be color-coded, shaped or linked across the map.  Whole sections can be relocated and bring their related concepts along with them. As ideas come to me on my commute, waiting for a flight, or late at night I can jot them down and then map out how certain things are related to each other, where dependencies lie or missing pieces need to be filled in. Mindo can then output your map as an image, a pdf or in the common mindmap file forms used by the much more expensive desktop solutions. It is Dropbox and email friendly from within the App. All this for $7.

Information Pro Perspective
Chromemarks Lite
David Whelan

Chromemarks is an Android app that synchronizes my Google Bookmarks to my phone.  Since I use Chrome on multiple computers, I can keep my bookmarks sync'd up between browsers on Google Bookmarks.  Chromemarks extends that so when I'm away from my PCs, I can still quickly get to bookmarked information.

Knowledge Management Perspective

TripCase is a great (and free!) travel app - it keeps your travel itinerary in one place; automatically tracks your flights and sends you alerts; updates your gate and baggage carousel information automatically; when you input a hotel it automatically pulls in the contact information, check in & check out times, and other key info; provides weather, maps, and directions; allows you to enter information for flights, hotels, car rentals, activities, meetings, restaurants, and more; and allows you to send copies of your full itinerary to others. I've noticed a few limitations (can't remember what those are right now), but I find the UI very simple and appealing, and most importantly -- I've found it to be more up-to-date and accurate with flight delays and gate information than the airlines' websites or even announcements at the airport!

IT Perspective

The coolest app I use for work is called iThoughtsHD which is basically MindMap for iPad.   iThoughtsHD is a very powerful tool for getting ideas out of your head and onto ""virtual paper"".  MindMapping is great way to  brainstorm and we use all the time to flush out ideas.  The iPad version is simple to use and very effective.  You even have the ability to share your maps via DropBox, email, wifi, mobileme, etc.

Lawyer Perspective
Twitter for Blackberry

I use Twitter for Blackberry to keep up with my tweets while on the go.  It has helped me network for our firm, get media coverage and exposure for our cases and legal issues we are experts on, and has helped me start to promote my own business Stacey E. Burke, PC (site to come).

Next Week's Elephant Post
What Legal News Resources do you read to keep up with industry news that affects your profession?
I have the wonderful job of researching dozens (maybe hundreds?) of different legal rags everyday. There are definitely some good legal news resources out there, and we thought we'd let you share a few of your favorites with us. For example, I enjoy the Osmosys Legal Industry Monitor for generic legal news (plus it is FREE!!) So, let us know what it is that you read when you sit down at your desk each morning. We try to make this easy by embedding the form to fill out, but of course, you can email me your answer, or DM it to me in a 140 characters of less. (really, just fill out the form below and make it easy on  me!!) If you need to see the form in another browser window, or see what others have answer, then you can click the links below, but really, just  fill out the stinkin' form!!

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“The Game” Is What Happens When a Law Firm and a Video Game Developer Hook Up

Yesterday, I was skimming through my RSS reader and came across the post from Thomson Reuters' Legal Current blog entitled “The Game” stuns attendees at legal marketing awards program. The more I read and watched, the more my mind was blown. The folks at Legal Current do a great job of describing, in detail, what the Dutch Law Firm of Houthoff Buruma, along with Ranj Serious Games, are doing in “The Game”, but basically, it is a way to test the mental agility of the players when confronted with a complex international legal issue. Houthoff Buruma even brings in some of its client's in-house counsel to compete against its associates in a friendly battle of wits.

“The Game” was awarded the Excellence in Legal Marketing Award by Thomson-Reuters and Hubbard One in co-operation with the Hildebrand Institute, but is seen as recruiting and training tool as much as it is seen as a marketing tool. Gretchen De Sutter, at Legal Current, gives some pretty high praise to Houthoff Buruma when she says, “Firms in the US are in general ahead of European law firms when it comes to marketing approach. It’s nice to hear the enthusiastic jury report of how they visualize that “The Game” should even be applied to Law Schools.”

Here's the video that describes “The Game,” it is well worth a watch to see how the concept of interactive training can enhance the ability to train and test attorneys (although you don't have to be an attorney to play it), and the possibilities that are out there to test potential recruits on how quickly they can think on their feet.

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PSLs in the UK – A Brief History

[Note: This is part two of a three-part guest-series on Practice Support Lawyers (PSL) and the emergence of PSLs in the United States from our guest-blogger, Ian Nelson.]

PSLs in the UK – A Brief History
The PSL role first appeared in the largest UK firms in the early 1990s. These firms gradually built large teams of PSLs to support their various practice areas. Their role was generally to develop standard documents for their particular group, keep the practicing attorneys up to date with key developments and produce practice guides on core areas of the law. The PSL gradually became a feature of smaller firms that came to see the business logic of a team of non-fee-earning attorneys whose job was to make the frontline attorneys as efficient as possible.

The tighter economy in 2008 led firms to look closely at all their support departments, including their PSLs. PSLs were laid off in the same way firms reduced their frontline lawyers and other staff. Some firms were more creative and decided to repurpose their PSLs so they were doing more marketing and business development work.

Therefore, most firms started to, and still do, outsource the creation and maintenance of much of the content (or “know-how”) creation and maintenance to third parties.  (Full disclosure: The company I work for, Practical Law Company, is a leading provider of this know-how in London and the UK.)  This freed up the PSLs to focus on firm and client specific work and the attorneys ended up having more and better resources than before this work was outsourced.  It made little sense for every firm in town to dedicate expensive employee time to creating essentially the same exact resources.

Technology certainly plays an important role in the UK as well.  Most firms have search platforms (like Recommind) that pull up completed deal documents, the PSL work product and the outsourced, or third party created, know-how.
What works about this system is that technology is used to provide the most efficient, comprehensive search.  All of the firm’s precedents are easily found, the PSLs are freed up for high-value projects and the attorneys still have the necessary materials and how-to resources – all of which are always up to date.

This is also a highly cost-effective system.  Instead of employing 50 PSLs, a firm can maintain a smaller, more efficient team that won’t be bogged down with materials that, while necessary for day-to-day practice, do not add to the firm’s competitive advantage.  A PSL team, coupled with a reliable provider of the supporting know-how, has been proven to provide the greatest cost efficiencies and results.

So the PSL role in the UK has survived the last economic downturn but their numbers are smaller and they are one part of a firm’s overall knowledge management strategy.

The third and final installment of this series will suggest an approach in the US to make the smartest, most efficient use of PSLs.

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The Emerging Role of the PSL in the US

[Note: We'd like to welcome our guest-blogger, Ian Nelson, from Practical Law Company and a former Corporate Attorney with an AmLaw 100 firm in New York.  This is part one of a three-part guest-series on Practice Support Lawyers (PSL) and the emergence of PSLs in the United States.]
The Emerging Role of the PSL in the US
An interesting and recent development in the US legal industry is the emergence of the professional support lawyer, or PSL (some firms are referring to this as a “practice support lawyer”, “practice resource attorney” or “knowledge management lawyer”).  PSLs have been an important part of UK firms for at least 20 years and are now, thankfully, entering the US scene.  Toby dedicated a post to this topic in November 2010 and a recent online search showed at least three open PSL positions at major firms. 
In this 3-part series, I will provide some background on the role of the PSL, a look at the PSL model in the UK and a suggested approach for the US based on lessons learned from the UK.  
A Brief Explanation of the PSL
For anyone not familiar with this function, PSLs play a crucial role in supporting attorneys and firms by creating and maintaining a wide range of practical resources such as practice guides, standard documents and forms, checklists, updates on legal developments, and other materials attorneys turn to on a daily basis.  PSLs also support specific practices with business development initiatives, research and pitch materials.  This is much different than storing and retrieving old work product and completed deal documents.
PSLs ensure that the frontline attorneys are working as efficiently as possible, that there is consistency in work product and that people are not reinventing the wheel on each deal.  With a central collection of up-to-date materials, attorneys will have less need for performing random Google searches or all too familiar “Does anyone have a recent form that does X, Y, Z” email.  Firms also use materials prepared by PSLs to create practical training and professional development programs and junior lawyers have a place to turn to when given unfamiliar assignments (which is most of the time!). 
When I was a corporate associate with Kramer Levin in NY, I spent six months practicing at a UK firm, Berwin Leighton Paisner.  When I was introduced to their corporate department’s PSL team and saw what they produced for the attorneys, I was dumbstruck and realized that the US was missing a huge opportunity to work in a much smarter, more efficient way.  My passion for innovation in the delivery of legal services was born during this time in London, which is why I ended up leaving practice to help start the US office of Practical Law Company.
PSLs in the US – Why Now?
I believe that US firms are now seriously looking at this role for a few reasons.  Chief among them: 
  • Client demands for increased efficiency that resulted from the recent economic downturn;
  • Clients are simply fed up with paying for the time of junior associates that they feel aren’t adding value to their matters;
  • Firms are trying to quickly implement better training programs and develop more resources but don’t have the time; and 
  • Alternative fee arrangements are taking permanent hold in many firms and client relationships, so the need to get deals done faster and smarter directly impacts the bottom line.
Now that the US is starting to employ this model, the real opportunity firms have is to get this right from the outset and apply lessons learned from the UK. 
As Toby’s earlier post points out, the UK has largely taken a human-centric view of this work and the US approach to KM and content has been technology-centric.  I strongly agree with Toby that the answer lies in the middle.  It is unnecessary for US firms to make the degree of human investment in PSLs that UK firms make, but if the correct approach is taken from the start, I believe that US firms can maximize the investments they are making in their PSLs, both for themselves and for their clients. 
In Part 2 of this series, we will take a look at the PSL model in the UK, including a brief analysis of key lessons learned. 

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LPM: Show me the Job Description

Legal Project Management (LPM) is a very hot topic. Everyone (including me) is writing and talking about its potential role in helping transform the legal industry. Aside from the various debates on its value and role, out of curiosity (and need) I started asking around for sample job descriptions. This request has gone out to law firms, consultants, vendors and even good ole fashion project managers.
The result: No one has a working LPM job description to share. I have found standard project manager ones (no surprise there), I have seen “analyst” type position descriptions, but no true LPM job descriptions.
My read on this: A) they don’t exist, or B) people are unwilling to share them. If it’s “A” then that is telling about the state of LPM’s evolution - that it is still all talk and no action. If it’s “B” that would speak to people thinking this type of knowledge gives then a competitive edge.
I’m guessing it’s more likely “A” but am happy to be proved wrong.
So – if you have an LPM job description, feel free to pass it along. Or, if you have one and prefer not to share it, I would appreciate hearing about that too.

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KM: The Big Room

A wise man once said, "It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt". Today I'm introducing my own corollary to that maxim. "Sometimes it's worth the risk of proving you're a fool in the hope that you might learn something from the backlash."

About a month ago I accepted a Knowledge Management position at my firm. My first task? Define Knowledge Management. In the last few weeks I have read several books, many Websites, and a handful of White Papers. I have spent a great deal of time lurking on KM blogs, forums, and LinkedIn groups, and I've asked everyone I know how they would define KM. All the while I've been only too aware of the above aphorism and largely kept quiet for fear of removing that last bit of doubt. The one thing I have definitively learned is that a coherent definition for Knowledge Management is an elusive beast. So, the time has come to risk looking foolish.

A few weeks ago Ayelette Robinson addressed this issue in a post here on 3 Geeks about her KM elevator speech. That was a great post. I've even used her elevator speech a few times since then. (Thanks, Ayelette. The check is in the mail.) Unfortunately, while "I do for my firm what Google did for the web" is descriptive enough to get the concept across to the casual inquisitor, it doesn't help me much when I'm trying to determine what I should be doing at any given moment. Stopping to ask myself, "What would Google do in this situation?", just doesn’t provide many relevant answers.

Probably the most concise definition I've gotten is from one of our resident 3 Geeks, Toby Brown. (Although, I'm going to mangle it Toby, so please correct me in the comments.) He said something like, KM is making sure that people can access the knowledge they need, when and where they need it. Good, simple definition, but again, it doesn't help me understand what I should be doing on a daily basis. So after several weeks of research, and reading and speaking to people much smarter than I, I have a good understanding of what KM is – like Justice Stewart's famous opinion, ”I know it when I see it” – but I still don’t have a definition against which I can weigh my actions or judge my ideas. So like any good physicist I approached the problem as a thought experiment and turned it on it’s head. (And no, I am not a physicist.)

Can I imagine an organization that would NOT benefit from Knowledge Management?

It's a difficult question and I think a good argument could be made that absolutely any organization could benefit from KM of some kind. Of course, it all depends on your definition of KM, so, that doesn’t get us very far. Still, I can say with a fair amount of confidence, that a very tiny company with a handful of employees probably wouldn't derive much value from KM initiatives.

So the next question is, how large can I grow my small company before it would ABSOLUTELY benefit from KM?

I spent a lot of time thinking about this one. I came to the conclusion that once the organization grew to a size that their entire staff could no longer operate in a single large room, then they would definitely benefit from KM.

What does a company working out of a single room have that a larger organization doesn't?

The word had been bouncing around in my head for several days, and then my friend Steven Savage mentioned it in a recent email, and then Ayelette Robinson talked about it in her latest Elephant Post. Something clicked, my weeks-long search finally culminated in a single, simple concept…Transparency.

The employees of my fictitious company operating out of a single room would have no walls blocking their view. They would personally know all of their colleagues, and their skill sets, and their responsibilities. They would know when someone entered the room, generally what they wanted, and when and why they left. They would probably know all of the products that their company sold and know who all of their company's clients were. Or at the very least, they would know where to find that information. If something important or urgent was happening on the far side of the room, those on the near side would be well aware and able to help. Spontaneous and serendipitous connections would happen regularly. Of course, the employees might all be at each other's throats, stuck in the same room day after day, but that's an HR problem. ;-) From a KM perspective, a single open room would be Nirvana.

Unfortunately, large modern corporations and law firms can't even fit in a metaphorical "single room". There are a million examples of things which need to be walled off and unavailable for common consumption. The role of KM is to figure out where those walls need to be and to shore them up, making sure that everyone who needs access to the information on the other side is aware that the information exists and has the keys they need to get to that information. And then to tear down all of the extraneous walls in the company so that everyone can share who they are, how they fit in, and what exactly is going on.

That is something I can weigh all of my actions against. Does this initiative increase transparency within my organization? If so, it's probably Knowledge Management.

Of course, this might be obvious, or completely wrong, in which case, at least you can all help me prove my new corollary in the comments below.

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“Blogging is So Three Years Ago” and Other Dumb Statements

In a flurry of emails one day, one of my peers sent me a short message that said he talked to one of his junior partners at the firm blurted out that in a meeting that “Blogging is sooo 3 years ago.” After what I imagined was a serious “eye-roll reaction,” my friend tried to explain that there are many successful blogs out there that kept their content fresh, substantiative and interesting. However, my favorite reaction came from someone else on the email chain who pointed out just how dumb the overall statement was. I found it to be funny and thought I'd share it with everyone that still reads blogs.

Saying something is so “x” years ago  is so “y” years ago so dates yourself.

Why do so many people have an issues with blogs?  What if I call it a whitepaper (oh wait, that is so 25 years ago), an article (nope, that is +100 yrs ago), a stream of consciousness (too 60s), musings (too 80s).

My take on blogs (at least good ones) is that they are:

  • Informative
  • offer a unique point of view
  • thought provoking  
Just to name a few points.

So if these concepts are of no interest to you then you are so yesterday’s news.
I’d like to step off of my soapbox now, but that term is so 50s!

Well said, my friend… well said.

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Define “Commodity” for me … Please

In this recent ABA Journal article, the co-CEO of Pangea3 is quoted as saying, “No law firm should be doing commoditized work.” The assumed intent of this statement is to ease concerns that Thomson Reuters (TR) / Pangea3 is competing with law firms (a.k.a. customers). On its face, this statement may provide some reassurance. But after thinking about, I’m not so assured.
At first blush you might agree with the statement above and conclude that Pangea3 services are “low-level” and not work lawyers “should be doing” anyway. However, this all spins on the definition of “commodity” as it relates to legal services. Having analyzed and modeled 100’s of AFA deals, my view is that almost all legal work includes some commodity aspects to it. Large complex matters contain within them commodity-level tasks. And there are some recently complex types of work that are becoming commoditized. For instance, class-action certifications may be heading in this direction. Is that the “commoditized work” Pangea3 means?
More likely Pangea3 is pointing to work like first document review or coding in discovery. Much of this work is moving off-shore and already labeled as commodity. But looking back just 4 or 5 years ago, this work was done by associates at law firms.
What appears to be the likely evolution of this model, is to start by taking on work that is currently accepted as commoditized work and then moving on to other, traditionally complex services over time.
My prediction: With the TR brand and deep pocket, clients will be much more willing to send work directly to Pangea3. This will give Pangea3 a seat at the client relationship table. Once these relationships are secured and become trusted, a broader range of services will be offered and work will flow in that direction … away from law firms. As any work approaches a commodity definition, it will shift away from law firms.
Economics tells us all products and services tend towards commodities over time. So my prediction is not very novel. What is different in this scenario is that clients will be sending work to a corporate entity and not a law firm. A new type of competitor has entered the market and its validation via the purchase by TR will accelerate its growth into traditional law firm delivered services.
Having worked for a mandatory Bar for 18+ years, I suggest not much will be said or done about this shift, even though one might argue this is the unauthorized practice of law. Historically, when competitors encroach on the legal market, lawyers and their bar associations label the work “commodity” and walk away. One example is residential title work, west of the Mississippi.
So instead of alleviating concern, I think the Pangea3 statement actually elevates it. I know who will be defining “commodity” in this situation and it won’t be the lawyers, law firms or bar associations.

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#Alt2Wexis – Highlights from the HALL Panel of Casemaker, Fastcase and Loislaw

First of all, I need to apologize for the technical difficulties. I attempted to live stream the Houston Area Law Libraries panel on Alternatives to Westlaw and Lexis, but the results were horrible. The audio from one of the speakers was too garbled to understand, and I was too busy moving back and forth from the computer to the podium that I didn't see the stream of complaints coming in about the audio. Chalk it up as "lesson learned." Next time, I think I'll just record the presentations on a real camera and then transfer it over to the web for later viewing. Again, my apologies! Now, for what you missed.

The idea behind the panel discussion was to get an overview of a few legal research products that are outside the large Westlaw and Lexis wings of the industry. We had Sharon Kube and Karen Ditsch from Loislaw (Wolters Kluwer), Ed Walters from Fastcase, and Dave Harriman from Casemaker. It wasn't set up as a bash Wexis session, but rather to highlight what's good about the alternatives, and what factors may exists that would encourage law firms, law schools, and court law libraries to use these products. The format was pretty straight forward; five-minutes each on discussing the products, followed by a scenario, then field questions from the crowd.

Product Intros
Sharon and Karen discussed the value of Loislaw as a flat-rate subscription with a wealth of primary law material, but also highlighted the ability to add in up to 200 treatises from the Wolters Kluwer collection, that integrates the Loislaw collection through hyperlinking of caselaw and statutes. Loislaw has a citation system that allows you to see the cases cited and any cases that cite to this case. There is also a find and print type option in Loislaw that allows you to pull all the citations out of a brief or document and then read or print any of those cases or statutes.

Ed Walters of Fastcase took a broader method with his five-minutes of discussion of his product. He discussed the issues of having large conglomerates of Thomson Reuters and Reed Elsevier controlling such a large percentage of the legal publishing market. Walters says one of the biggest problems is that law firms and law librarians are not speaking the "corporate" language of the big vendors. If you complain about the service and products, but re-up your subscriptions at a 12% increase, the message that the vendors hear is "they are willing to re-up at 12%." A combined tweet from Carl Malumud and David Curle, may have said it best on what Walters was doing:
RT @davidcurle: @EJWalters is holding up a mirror to the audience. #alt2wexis [they have met the enemy and they are them!]
The answer, according to Walters, was that if the community wanted to really change the way things are with Wexis, then "you got to build it… you got to invest in it.… Complaining on the [law library] listservs is not going to do it." Walters did go on to talk about Fastcase and the way they are building the interface to be "easy, powerful, compelling, beautiful." They are building iPad and iPhone apps; building free access to limited portions of the collection through the Public Library of Law; and, the Forecite tool built in to Fastcase to point out cases that might be overlooked through traditional search methods.

Dave Harriman from Casemaker took a much more traditional approach of explaining his product by talking about his background of 40 years of legal editing while he was at Michie, and was the President of Michie Publishing when he left after Lexis acquired Michie. Harriman pointed out that when it comes to primary law, Casemaker compares very well to products like Lexis. Harriman's biggest point of why Casemaker is a great product is that they are focused on the editorial process. Casemaker also has a citator system, called CaseCheck+, for some states that works like a Shepards or Keycite. They also have a case summary resource that produces summaries for newly released cases in some states. Of course, the biggest draw is that Casemaker is free for those states where the bar has purchased licenses for the members of those bars.

I had given each of the panelist the scenario I was going to ask previous to them appearing on the panel. The scenario was this:
My boss came to me and said that they were looking to reduce our current Westlaw and Lexis subscriptions down to one vendor only. I was given the names of the three vendors (Fastcase, Casemaker and Loislaw) and was told to investigate if any of these would be a good alternative to the product we are dropping. The panelists' should give me some good talking points to take back to my boss on why we should bring in their product as an alternative to the product we are dropping.
Loislaw's panelists went first and explained that Loislaw is a flat-fee product, so you pay one price, and no surprises. One benefit of Loislaw, over some of the other non-Wexis products, is that all the materials are housed within the Loislaw databases. This means that their citation system, Global Cite, (which is not a Shepards or KeyCite replacement) works extremely well because all the material is there. If portions of the state statues are not housed within the system, then a citator system like this is basically useless. Sharon Kube also mentioned the ability to pull all of the cites out of a brief or document, and the ability to add in treatise materials that integrate into Loislaw (at an additional fee.) The biggest pitch was that Loislaw is affordable when compared to Wexis.

Once again, Ed Walters took a unique approach to answering the scenario. I think Jason Wilson may have said it best in his tweet about Walter's opening remarks:
Smart approach by @ejwalters. It's the ol' Macy's/Gimbles approach. "Hey, we may not be right for you." #alt2wexis
Walters started discussing the user experience that Fastcase brings, more than how it battles head-to-head with the Wexis products. Fastcase is designed to get researchers focused on the tools, and not attempting to get bogged down in the different databases. This is done, according to Walters, through smart sorting tools, research options, data visualization tools, and through new search results options that Fastcase's "ForeCite" brings to the final results. The pitch for Fastcase was what Walters mentioned in his introduction; Fastcase is "easy, powerful, compelling, beautiful."

Dave Harriman from Casemaker finished up the scenario by focusing on Casemaker's content, and editorial production team. Casemaker uses a combination of editorial staffers based in Mumbai, India (Indian based lawyers) and Charlottesville, Virginia (former Michie editors.) Whereas, Fastcase discussed its interface, Harriman talked about Casemaker's content, and the ability to keep things like state and federal statutes updated as soon as laws are signed. Since Casemaker is only available through the state bar, if your state bar has an agreement (the Texas Bar does, by the way) then members of the bar can have access for free. So, if cost is a factor, and your bar has an agreement, then that may be the big selling point to take back to your boss.

Are the non-Wexis products viewed by Courts as a "trusted source?"
This question actually came in from an academic law librarian, but it really had a Court librarian angle. The vendors talked about how they work very hard to make their products dependable and trustworthy. Loislaw pointed out that they include pagination on all of their resources; Fastcase talked about the fact that over 500K lawyers had access to Fastcase; and, Casemaker said that they are a trusted sources because they supply the material to the state bar associations.

What about proprietary citations that Westlaw and Lexis use when citing to new decisions? Will an increase in non-Wexis provider usage break the court's reliance upon these? 
This was an interesting question on the issue of those ____ WL ____ or ___ LEXIS ____ cites that go up on new cases until a print version of that case appears in the National Reporter System (sometimes months later.) This question got Ed Walters back up on his soapbox about how there is a need for libraries, librarians, researchers, lawyers, and the associations that represent them to stand up and demand a neutral citation system. No one said that the "WL" or "LEXIS" cites were going away anytime soon, however.

The conversation did expand to include the issue of the copyrighting of the "catchlines" (titles) of state statues. In some states, the actual title of a statute is copyrighted by the vendor that prints the official state statutes. I ran into this problem in Oklahoma when it came to Westlaw claiming copyright. Ed Walters discussed this about Lexis owning the copyright to the Georgia state codes. Walters said he was stunned that when he asked Lexis to license the catchlines to the statutes, he was told that they would never do that… at any price. Casemaker's Harriman added that when Michie was publisher of the state codes, they gave the copyright of those catchlines back to the 26 states that they covered. Harriman explained that publishers had to create those catchlines, and thus claimed copyright on them, but in Michie's case, they wanted to give that back to the states to build goodwill. Walters said that the copyright should be viewed as a "work for hire" and should never go to the publisher. I think that everyone in the room agreed that the issue of catchline copyrighting is one that no one (except the vendors that hold that right) view favorably.

How about mobile versions of your products?
I think this question may have made Ed Walters squeak out a little cheer of joy. Walters jumped in and discussed the free iPad and iPhone versions of Fastcase (both the app and the content are free.) Harriman was not sure of the mobile apps that Casemaker offers, but since I had written about this before on this blog, I mentioned that Casemaker's approach was to build a mobile web version of their product that would work on any mobile device, not just the iPad or iPhone. Kube from Loislaw said that they were about to beta-test a new mobile version in the next few months and something should be out later this year.

What about court briefs? Are you going to offer those?
Casemaker works with specific attorneys to put their briefs on their system, but is not working directly with the courts to pull that information. Ed Walters mentioned that Fastcase is working with the Law.gov folks on the 9th Circuit briefs. Loislaw (from what I remember) didn't have any plans to put those on because of the issue of trying to obtain them from the courts. The issue of copyright was brought up again by Walters about the use of these briefs without getting permission from the lawyers that actually wrote the briefs. Harriman said that all of the copyrights of the briefs on Casemaker were cleared by the authors directly. There was also some murmuring about the coziness that courts have with the Wexis vendors on briefs, especially from courts where you cannot get access to the briefs online from the court themselves, but you can through the paid services of Wexis. We left it an open issue.

Any chance for International Materials?
Kube and Deitch from Loislaw said that international materials are part of the overall Wolters Kluwer collection, but currently not available directly from Loislaw. Casemaker is currently discussing the idea of adding international and foreign materials, but does not have any at the moment. My notes actually fail me on what Fastcase's answer was to this. I don't believe they currently have foreign or international materials, but Ed Walters may clarify that with me if I am mistaken.

End of Panel
It was a great panel discussion, and I was glad that Ed, Dave, Karen and Sharon took the time to talk with us. I wished that the audio on the livestreaming wasn't garbled… but hopefully, this round-up of what was discussed makes up a little for that technical difficulty.

I'd love to see something like this as a discussion at AALL or at other local events. In fact, discussions like this shouldn't be limited to the law library world. Legal research, its costs and contents, are issues that effect everyone that faces a legal issue. That includes lawyers, paralegals, legal administrators, corporate counsel, clients, all the way down to the Pro Se client. I'd really love to see this discussion happening outside the law librarian world. If you're a member of an organization that has to deal with the cost and effectiveness of legal research, then I think having a panel discussion like this would be of value to the members you serve.

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